The “Wall of Blue” has been circling the wagons around Barry Country Emergency 911 Director Charlie Nystrom this summer, and with good reason. This “wall” generally refers to a fraternity of police officers that takes care of one another when under threat or siege. Sometimes, like with too many labor unions, the one getting the protection may not deserve it.
Rumors and stories about Charlie Nystrom are about as old as the Barry County 911 system itself. The most common raps against him over the years have been that he’s abusive toward employees, is rigid in his style of leadership, has a lousy attitude toward women, doesn’t accept criticism without getting mad and getting even, plays favorites with dispatchers and is gone from his duties far too often. A couple of the more interesting charges were that Nystrom commonly called one female employee “shit for brains” and mocked another’s son’s behavior, though the child was suffering from a debilitating disease. There also were stories that Nystrom, a former state cop, was allegedly asked to retire from the force because of habitual troubles with alcohol and with abusing women physically and emotionally.
Until recently, I treated these stories as just that — stories. But like Bill Clinton’s penchant for oral sex, Charlie has shown a disturbing pattern of behavior that leads me to suspect there’s more to this than just idle gossip.
Six years ago Charlie promoted the tawdry rumor that a female writer from J-Ad Graphics was having a sexual affair with State Rep. candidate Jim Bailey. The rumor was started by misinterpreting a comment made that the two were “in bed together,” in a political sense, not in the Biblical sense. Nystrom was a strong supporter of Bailey’s opponent in that primary election, Gary Newell, himself (what a coincidence!) a retired state police commander.
Not long ago, he took an angry telephone answering machine message from Hastings Banner Editor David Young and distributed it to all government units in the county for their listening pleasure. This one should be remembered because it’s part of a pattern of how Charlie tries to get even.
J-Ad Graphics Vice President Fred Jacobs took Charlie to task for running a 911 department with a lot of leftover cash, about 80 percent equity, so he can buy fancy frills such as a GPS tracking system that would make Barry County the envy of the state. Jacobs even suggested the 911 Board he’s supposed to be answering to is packed with people loyal to him, therefore he is accountable to virtually no one. Nystrom got a nice 4.5% salary raise, bumping him up to $61,000 a year and making him one of the higher paid 911 directors of Michigan counties comparable in size and population. His raise was larger than almost all other county employees this year.
Then came the story of Judy Wooer, who had been on the 911 Board since its inception in 1991, but was retired from her position while she was on vacation last spring. Charlie protested that Rutland Township Supervisor Jim Carr did the honors and not him, but it’s interesting to note Carr is a dispatcher who works for Nystrom. Carr defended the move by saying it’s time to get new blood on the board, yet the other board member, Don Boysen, was reappointed even though he’s been on the board just as long as Wooer. What a coincidence it was that Ms. Wooer constantly refused to sign Charlie’s vouchers before meetings and insisted on examining them. It was suggested in black and white long before she was not reappointed that Charlie would have her removed.
Memo to Messieurs Carr and Nystrom: Don’t pee on taxpayers’ shoes and then tell them it’s raining.
Most recently there have been allegations that Charlie has had a high old time on the public’s dime, supposedly spending a casino weekend in the Upper Peninsula to attend the funeral of a fellow 911 director, turning in vouchers for hotels he did not stay at and irregularities with gasoline charges. Whether true of not, this is the kind of stuff that cost former Caledonia School Superintendent Wes VanDenburg his job. Yet those who bring up questions and suspicions about Nystrom pay a price.
Not long after Jacobs mentioned at the County Board forum that allegations against Charlie have been turned over the prosecuting attorney, a couple of public officials received mysterious mailings charging them with youthful indiscretions that could be made public. Sounds like the same kind of game played against Young.
And now the 911 Board, led by Chairman Ron Neil, a retired state police commander (surprised?), is sending letters to all county commission candidates essentially saying Jacobs and Young are out to get Charlie and all these rumors are unfounded. This came after County Board Chairwoman Clare Tripp, Administrator Michael Brown and Neil met privately last week to discuss the mounting stories.
It is difficult to get to the truth when there is a firewall, a “Wall of Blue” that won’t let you penetrate to the inner core. Some have been trying, but they eventually get discouraged by the many roadblocks thrown in their way. At higher levels, the state attorney general’s office has refused to look at the issues and Jacobs and others have been told “don’t go there” with these allegations.
The word is that unless there are changes in at least two County Board seats in the Aug. 8 primary election, nothing will ever be done and Nystrom will continue to enjoy his insulation from examination and criticism. Charlie’s best friends on the board right now might be Tripp and Tom Wing. He needs them to win. Otherwise, there may be a true inquiry. And we can't have that, can we?